Monthly Archives: May 2012

Remember that Rep. Ryan is supposedly one of the big thinkers on the right these days. As a die-hard devotee of Ayn Rand, he has to know that she was adamantly opposed to religion in general and Christianity specifically.

“I don’t approve of religion,” she once stated, flatly. Elsewhere, she decried religious faith as evil. “[Faith],” she said, “is a sign of a psychological weakness … I regard it as evil to place your emotions, your desire, above the evidence of what your mind knows. That’s what you’re doing with the idea of God.”

Mario Piperni Does Cluster Fox News

It’s Finally Official: Fox News Is Biased and Rotten to the Core

May 31, 2012 By

Sure, the sane among us know that Fox News is the propaganda arm of the Republican Party whose job it is to misinform the “sedentary ignoramuses” who actually believe they’re watching real news. Well, that and making millions for Rupert Murdoch and friends. No big surprise that Fox’s role is to promote a right-wing agenda by any means possible, legit or not. You know this, I know this, tens of millions know this…but not so with a certain TV critic who writes for the Baltimore Sun.

With Mitt Romney now officially President Obama’s opponent, it truly appears to be game on at the Fox News channel – at least, if this morning’s “Fox & Friends” is any indication.

Today’s version of the morning show featured an anti-Obama video that resembled propaganda films from 1930′s Europe more than it did responsible TV politics of today.

And the remarkable thing was the witless crew on the couch that serves as hosts for this show had the audacity to present it as journalism and congratulate the producer who put it together.

As the guy who challenged the Obama administration two years when it tried to deny Fox News access to interviews and other opportunities offered to the media on the grounds that Fox was not a legitimate news operation, I have to tell you even I am shocked by how blatantly Fox is throwing off any pretense of being a journalistic entity with videos like this. Don’t be fooled by Bret Baier’s Boy Scout smile or all the talk about how some shows are news and some are opinion on the channel. Any news organization that puts up this kind of video is rotten to the core.

Shocked? Where the hell has this guy been for the last 16 years? He wonders if that morning’s edition of Fox and Friends is “any indication” of Fox’s political agenda. Yes, Mr. TV Critic Guy! That morning’s show, yesterday’s morning show as well as every other show from every morning, afternoon and evening since day one of Fox’s emergence on the scene. This is who they are! This is what those lying, hypocritical buffoons do! Everything Fox does is blatant partisan politics. They just don’t admit it, that’s all. Fair and Balanced, remember? It’s right there on every Fox promo, so it has to be true for those who need it to be true. It is no wonder that surveys have shown that watching no news at all would make you a better informed individual than if you spent your days watching Fox News. Hey, it does not get any clearer than that.

Yes, Fox is “rotten to the core” but the only surprise here is that it took a TV critic so long to figure it out. The headline for his piece, by the way, was hilariously naive: With Romney now official, Fox News gets shamelessly political. Really? What were they before Romney became the official nominee? Fair and balanced, I presume.

If you wish to waste your time watching Fox and Friends’ version of high journalism, here it is.

Mario Piperni Does Rick Scott

Welcome To Rick Scott’s Corrupt Florida

May 31, 2012 By

If President Obama loses in November, the reason might have little to do with his record of the last four years or the $1 billion each side will spend in ads and campaign events. It will have even less to do with how wonderful (not) President Mitt Romney would be. If Obama loses in November, it might very well be because of stuff like this:

Six members of Florida’s congressional delegation are pushing Gov. Rick Scott (R) to stop purging the state’s voting rolls of eligible voters, after numerous individuals were improperly flagged as non-citizens.

The state used an outdated driver’s license database in their initial effort to scrub non-citizens from the voting rolls. Officials believed that 182,000 voters on the rolls were non-citizens, and began sending out notifications that required voters to prove their citizenship within 30 days.

But plenty of legal U.S. citizens who should be allowed to vote wound up on the purge list. In Miami-Dade County, 1,638 people were flagged by the state as “non-citizens,” yet at least 359 people provided the county with proof of citizenship and another 26 people were identified by the county as U.S. citizens, ThinkProgress reported. An analysis by the Miami Herald found that Hispanic, Democratic and independent-minded voters were most likely to be targeted by the purge effort.

The GOP voter suppression effort (see New Mexico and Colorado) would be serious stuff at any time but even more so in an election year where the winner will likely eke out a victory by a percentage point or two. And  forget not that the worst presidency of the last century was led by a man who won stole an election over Al Gore by a mere 537 votes. Voter disenfranchisement is old business in Florida. In 2000, Gov. Jeb Bush hired private contractors to purge voting listings of felons. The result was that 12,000 eligible voters were wrongly identified as felons and were unable to cast a vote on election day. Hello, George W., Dick Cheney, the Iraq war and eight years of disastrous economic policies. Obviously, votes matter.

Rolling Stone has all the details on Scott’s voter suppression scheme.

The GOP motto, ‘if you can’t win it, steal it,’ is alive and well in 2012.

The Super Rich Are Out of Sight

Michael Parenti
January 2000

The super rich, the less than 1 percent of the population who own the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth, go uncounted in most income distribution reports. Even those who purport to study the question regularly overlook the very wealthiest among us. For instance, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, relying on the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, released a report in December 1997 showing that in the last two decades “incomes of the richest fifth increased by 30 percent or nearly $27,000 after adjusting for inflation.” The average income of the top 20 percent was $117,500, or almost 13 times larger than the $9,250 average income of the poorest 20 percent.

But where are the super rich? An average of $117,500 is an upper-middle income, not at all representative of a rich cohort, let alone a super rich one. All such reports about income distribution are based on U.S. Census Bureau surveys that regularly leave Big Money out of the picture. A few phone calls to the Census Bureau in Washington D.C. revealed that for years the bureau never interviewed anyone who had an income higher than $300,000. Or if interviewed, they were never recorded as above the “reportable upper limit” of $300,000, the top figure allowed by the bureau’s computer program. In 1994, the bureau lifted the upper limit to $1 million. This still excludes the very richest who own the lion’s share of the wealth, the hundreds of billionaires and thousands of multimillionaires who make many times more than $1 million a year. The super rich simply have been computerized out of the picture.

When asked why this procedure was used, an official said that the Census Bureau’s computers could not handle higher amounts. A most improbable excuse, since once the bureau decided to raise the upper limit from $300,000 to $1 million it did so without any difficulty, and it could do so again. Another reason the official gave was “confidentiality.” Given place coordinates, someone with a very high income might be identified. Furthermore, he said, high-income respondents usually understate their investment returns by about 40 to 50 percent. Finally, the official argued that since the super rich are so few, they are not likely to show up in a national sample.

But by designating the (decapitated) top 20 percent of the entire nation as the “richest” quintile, the Census Bureau is including millions of people who make as little as $70,000. If you make over $100,000, you are in the top 4 percent. Now $100,000 is a tidy sum indeed, but it’s not super rich — as in Mellon, Morgan, or Murdock. The difference between Michael Eisner, Disney CEO who pocketed $565 million in 1996, and the individuals who average $9,250 is not 13 to 1 — the reported spread between highest and lowest quintiles — but over 61,000 to 1.

Speaking of CEOs, much attention has been given to the top corporate managers who rake in tens of millions of dollars annually in salaries and perks. But little is said about the tens of billions that these same corporations distribute to the top investor class each year, again that invisible fraction of 1 percent of the population. Media publicity that focuses exclusively on a handful of greedy top executives conveniently avoids any exposure of the super rich as a class. In fact, reining in the CEOs who cut into the corporate take would well serve the big shareholder’s interests.

*     *     *
Two studies that do their best to muddy our understanding of wealth, conducted respectively by the Rand Corporation and the Brookings Institution and widely reported in the major media, found that individuals typically become rich not from inheritance but by maintaining their health and working hard. Most of their savings comes from their earnings and has nothing to do with inherited family wealth, the researchers would have us believe. In typical social-science fashion, they prefigured their findings by limiting the scope of their data. Both studies failed to note that achieving a high income is itself in large part due to inherited advantages. Those coming from upper-strata households have a far better opportunity to maintain their health and develop their performance, attend superior schools, and achieve the advanced professional training, contacts, and influence needed to land the higher paying positions.

More importantly, both the Rand and Brookings studies fail to include the super rich, those who sit on immense and largely inherited fortunes. Instead, the investigators concentrate on upper-middle-class professionals and managers, most of whom earn in the $100,000 to $300,000 range — which indicates that the researchers have no idea how rich the very rich really are.

When pressed on this point, they explain that there is a shortage of data on the very rich. Being such a tiny percentage, “they’re an extremely difficult part of the population to survey,” pleads Rand economist James P. Smith, offering the same excuse given by the Census Bureau officials. That Smith finds the super rich difficult to survey should not cause us to overlook the fact that their existence refutes his findings about self-earned wealth. He seems to admit as much when he says, “This [study] shouldn’t be taken as a statement that the Rockefellers didn’t give to their kids and the Kennedys didn’t give to their kids.” (New York Times, July 7, 1995) Indeed, most of the really big money is inherited — and by a portion of the population that is so minuscule as to be judged statistically inaccessible.

*     *     *
The higher one goes up the income scale, the greater the rate of capital accumulation. Economist Paul Krugman notes that not only have the top 20 percent grown more affluent compared with everyone below, the top 5 percent have grown richer compared with the next 15 percent. The top one percent have become richer compared with the next 4 percent. And the top 0.25 percent have grown richer than the next 0.75 percent. That top 0.25 owns more wealth than the other 99 percent combined. It has been estimated that if children’s play blocks represented $1,000 each, over 98 percent of us would have incomes represented by piles of blocks that went not more than a few yards off the ground, while the top one percent would stack many times higher than the Eiffel Tower.

Marx’s prediction about the growing gap between rich and poor still haunts the land — and the entire planet. The growing concentration of wealth creates still more poverty. As some few get ever richer, more people fall deeper into destitution, finding it increasingly difficult to emerge from it. The same pattern holds throughout much of the world. For years now, as the wealth of the few has been growing, the number of poor has been increasing at a faster rate than the earth’s population. A rising tide sinks many boats.

To grasp the true extent of wealth and income inequality in the United States, we should stop treating the “top quintile” — the upper-middle class — as the “richest” cohort in the country. But to do that, we need to look beyond the Census Bureau’s cooked statistics. We need to catch sight of that tiny, stratospheric apex that owns most of the world.

Michael Parenti is the author of Against Empire, Dirty Truths, America Besieged, and most recently, History as Mystery, all published by City Lights Books.

Bust ‘Em Up: Who Needs Wall Street Giants?

JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and the handful of other behemoths of Wall Street that dominate American banking — who needs them?

After enduring years of insatiable greed by the slick-fingered hucksters who run these gambling houses; after watching in dismay as their ineptness and avarice drained more than $19 trillion from America’s household wealth since 2007 and plunged our real economy into the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Depression; after witnessing their shameful demands for trillions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts to save their banks and their jobs; and now after seeing them return immediately to business as usual, including paying multimillion-dollar bonuses to themselves — we have to ask: Huh!?!

Oh, no-no, cry the banking titans, don’t even think of looking behind the curtain! Trust us, say these Wall Street alchemists, for we are essential to juicing the economy with our complex abracadabra investment schemes.

In fact, however, those schemes just move money around, spiraling real investment capital from the grassroots up to superrich global profiteers who create nothing but more wealth for themselves. Shell games at carnival sideshows are more honest than big-bank trading houses, for the hustles of such hucksters as JPMorgan, Goldman, B of A, etc. are based on financial illusions, off-the-books accounting, illegally leveraged borrowing, ridiculous tax subsidies and hide-the-pea secrecy.

The obvious truth is that these high-flying, high-tech, high-speed emporiums of high finance serve themselves, not us — so we have no obligation or need to keep serving them. Of course we need banks — to lend to us consumers and our productive businesses, to handle our commercial transactions, to manage our savings and provide financial advice, etc. But that’s not what the leviathans of Wall Street do. Rather than keep protecting them, let’s decentralize America’s capital, reinvesting our public trust in community banks and credit unions that actually deserve it and serve it.

Rather than keep protecting them, let’s decentralize America’s capital, reinvesting our public trust in community banks and credit unions that actually deserve it and serve it.

This month has brought us yet another screaming example of a big-shot Wall Street banker who got too big for his britches — a story revealing the inevitable excess that comes from banks that are simply too big.

In April, Jamie Dimon — the swaggering chief of Wall Street’s largest financial conglomerate, JPMorgan Chase — had scoffed at critics who warned that his banks high-flying investment division was dangerously overextended and risking collapse. “A complete tempest in a teapot,” scoffed Dimon. On May 10, however, Jamie’s teapot exploded, blowing a $3 billion hole in the nation’s largest bank … and in Dimon’s reputation.

Poor Jamie — why didn’t someone tell him?

Some tried. As early as 2009, JPMorgan’s own internal risk managers raised concerns that this opaque division was pouring billions of dollars into speculative trades that were too large and too complex even to understand, much less manage. But their caution was dismissed, and Dimon himself pushed for more of these wondrous schemes, hailing them as perpetual profit-machines.

OK, the bank’s execs were bedazzled by visions of sugary bonuses, but where were the federal regulators, who’re supposed to dog banker excess? Shoved aside by Dimon. While the Federal Reserve and Comptroller of Currency had more than 100 inspectors imbedded in JPMorgan, none were in the reckless investment division. The bank’s big-shot boss, who is politically wired to the top leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties in Washington, had aggressively pushed against having regulators hovering around his hot investment profit center, assuring them that nothing was happening in there worth watching.

Dimon had extra clout, for not only was he a Wall Street star sitting atop the biggest bank, but — get this — he also has a seat on the board of the New York branch of the Federal Reserve, which has regulatory authority over Wall Street and will now conduct the inquiry into JPMorgan’s disastrous risk-taking. Yes, Jamie the Fed official will investigate Jamie the banker.

This is proof again that these banks are simply too big — too big for managers, regulators and the public interest. We don’t need yet another regulatory Band-Aid, we need Teddy Roosevelt to bust ’em up.

Jim Hightower

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

Mario Piperni on the Lyin’ Liars

Romney’s Necessary Flip-Flopping

May 30, 2012 By

Did Republicans have no choice but to nominate a serial flip-flopper like Mitt Romney? Perhaps so.

David Karol has an interesting post at the Monkey Cage in which he argues that Romney’s “very inconsistency was a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for his success in capturing his party’s presidential nomination this year.” But I think it goes further than Karol suggests. It’s not just that Romney had to switch his positions to be a credible potential nominee. I would argue that any Republican presidential nominee today would have to be a serious flip-flopper.

And here is the reason.

The Republican Party has been moving to the right very quickly in recent years. Almost no one taking the stances that Romney is taking now could have been elected as a senator or a governor from most states just a few years ago. So, if you were consistently conservative (like, say, Bachmann or Santorum), you were either doomed to service in the House or to being kicked out of the Senate. If you had a presidential résumé, conversely, it was probably because your views were pretty moderate a few years ago. Arguably, the only person who can get nominated in the current Republican Party is someone who has pivoted to the right rapidly in the past decade. Rapid polarization makes flip-flopping a necessity.

If flip-flopping is the necessary trait for a nominee of a political party that has pulled a hard right in recent years, then a Mitt Romney would have to be created if he did not already exist. They would have to have put together a soulless creature that could effortlessly move from, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this countryand “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose” to “I am firmly pro-life” and “The right next step in the, in the fight to preserve the sanctity of life is to see Roe v. Wade overturned.”

From “Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush.  I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush” to “The principles that Ronald Reagan espoused are as true today as they were when he spoke them.”

From “Well, that’s what we did in Massachusetts, and that is, we put together an exchange, and the president’s copying that idea. I’m glad to hear that” to “Obamacare is bad news … and if I’m president of the United States I will repeal it.”

From “I just signed a piece of legislation extending the ban on certain assault weapons” to “I do not support any new legislation of an assault weapon ban nature.”

From “I’m not willing to sit back and say too bad for Michigan, too bad, too bad for the car industry” to “That’s exactly what I said…. ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.’”

From “I think there is need for economic stimulus…” (2009) to “I have never supported the President’s recovery act, all right, the stimulus, no time, nowhere, no how.” (2011)

That is some serious flip-flopping and only possible from a man who at heart is a serial liar. But then again, in the immortal words of George Costanza, it’s really not a lie if you believe it.

___

(The Romney source photograph is a Creative Commons licensed image from photographer Gage Skidmore.)

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Naked Capitalism: Drug Warrior and Pro-Drone Democratic Congressman Silvestres Reyes Goes Down Hard

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can follow him on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/matthewstoller

Yesterday, we hit a turning point in the war on drugs.  Pro-legalization Democratic Congressional candidate Beta O’Rourke defeated eight term Democratic incumbent Silvestre Reyes in a bitterly fought and exceptionally vicious primary yesterday in a Texas border district, where the war on drugs was a central issue.

Nearly everyone in Congress and in the Executive branch knows the war on drugs is stupid and/or ineffective and/or corrupt, but very few will speak out against it.  I mean, most of them have used illegal drugs at some point in the past.  There are many reasons for this reticence, one of which is that every member seemingly has some story about seeing some pro-legalization candidate get destroyed in an election, with the idea that drug legalization is a fringe position akin to establishing a Department of Peace or abolishing the CIA.  There are also huge sums of money behind the war on drugs, from the pro-meth pharmaceutical lobby that uses “blood money” to keep selling addictive chemicals to the massive defense contractor and predator drone industry that wants to militarize the borders to police departments that like their drug war money to the banking system itself that launders drug money.

But mostly, ending the drug war is seen as a fool’s errand.  It’s not even a debate, it’s so fringe.  Here’s Barack Obama mocking people on the internet for caring about drug legalization.  But the war on drugs is a key architectural pillar of the authoritarian parts of our government.  Since most people have used illegal drugs, a government can choose who to imprison based on selective prosecution, without any real debate in our political system.  A lack of debate is key to sustaining the war on drugs.

We might have just seen the end of this dynamic of shameful silence.

This race in Texas is important, because many factors were stacked in favor of the drug warrior.  Reyes, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee and a member of the Unmanned Systems Caucus in Congress (the Predator Drone caucus) is a proponent of militarizing the border and sending in drones to Mexico to kill cartel leaders.

“We have to do what we’ve done essentially in Pakistan, and that is start taking out the heads of the cartels,” said Reyes, whose four-year tenure as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee ended in December.  That, he said, is what it will take to end the cartel drug wars that have caused 35,000 deaths and brought Juárez and other Mexican towns and cities to their knees since 2008.

Asked if he meant employing the kind of drone missile strikes that have been effective but hugely unpopular in Pakistan, Reyes told El Paso Inc., “I wouldn’t rule that out.”

This debate over the war on drugs was not incidental in the race.  O’Rourke has argued that drug laws increase profits for Mexican drug cartels and increase violence; Reyes used this stance to run ads against O’Rourke using children shaking their heads and saying “just say no” to drugs.  The Nancy Reagan-esque messaging did not cause O’Rourke to run fearfully, instead, O’Rourke stood his ground and made the argument that the drug war causes murder on the other side of the border.  That O’Rourke won is, politically speaking, like seeing a dog walk on his hind legs.  This just isn’t supposed to happen.

What makes this even more impressive is that Reyes was endorsed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  In primaries, these kinds of endorsements are exceptionally important, because people in Democratic primaries like and trust Democratic leaders.  That the voters threw out an ardent drug warrior despite such endorsements and without an obvious scandal is a very powerful statement about the change in political atmosphere around the war on drugs.

There are many reasons to be happy that Reyes lost.  He is and was an awful Congressman, both stupid and craven.  As Democratic leader of the Intelligence Committee, Reyes did not know the group Hezbollah, and he didn’t know whether Al Qaeda was Sunni or Shia.  Reyes is a proponent of any number of authoritarian policies violating our civil liberties, and he is backed by predator drone cash.  So if you like militarizing, well, everything, then Reyes is your man.  And this has been the trend recently.

So it’s nice to see voters choose peace over war, and an end the war on drugs.  Now that a candidate won a significant race while arguing for drug decriminalization, it’s going to be increasingly more difficult for politicians to avoid debating the issue.  And that’s good.

Humor: The Borowitz Report

Trump Could Help Romney Win Elusive Billionaire Asshole Vote

Bid to Woo Top .00001%

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – Businessman Donald Trump’s endorsement of former Governor Mitt Romney could help the presumptive GOP nominee win over the support of a constituency that has been cool to him thus far: billionaire assholes.

Reportedly, the top .00001% wealthiest Americans have regarded Mr. Romney with suspicion to date, wondering, in the words of one billionaire, “if he’s really one of us.”

“It’s a bit of a reach for us billionaires to vote for someone like Romney, who just has a couple of hundred million in the bank,” said Grayson Rance, a billionaire who has so far viewed the former Massachusetts governor warily.  “But if a bona fide billionaire asshat like Trump is for him, that makes you give the guy a second chance.”

Mr. Rance said that it was hard to believe that Mr. Romney, “who only owns five or six homes, could relate to people like us and understand our problems,” but that Mr. Trump’s thumbs-up “counts for a lot.”

Speaking on CNN’s “Situation Room,” Mr. Trump told host Wolf Blitzer his reason for endorsing Mr. Romney: “After four years of a President who was born overseas, its time for a President who was born here and sends his money overseas.”

As for Mr. Romney, he experienced a rare emotional moment on Memorial Day, placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Banker.